Savory, Pantry-Friendly Grain Bowls

I’m a huge fan of “pantry” meals, which means easy-to-adapt (but still delicious!) meals that can be made using a lot of basic, accessible, affordable, and often shelf-stable ingredients, and then jazzed up and adjusted to make use of whatever happens to be in your particular pantry. These breakfast bowls take cheap, humdrum oatmeal and turns it into an unexpected savory breakfast dish that still has a welcomed complexity. And did you know that whole grains are some of the best things you can eat for your health? Most people could use a little more, and this delicious option is a great way to start.


  • Rolled oats (you can also use slower-cooking oats such as steel cut oats. Just adjust cooking time to package directions)
  • Savory soup stock – Kitchen hack tip: The best time to make savory oatmeal bowls is the day after you order a rich, complex, savory homemade soup takeout. Reserve as much of that leftover pho broth, ginger garlic broth, or ramen broth as your heart can bear. If you don’t have any leftover broth (or enough!) use (or supplement with) quick miso soup (by combining store-bought dashi and red miso) or chicken bouillon. If you’re using store-bought ingredients, use the highest quality broth/stock/base your budget will afford. Better Than Bouillon (available at Costco in bulk!) will be a much better option to MSG-heavy, ultra-ultra-salty and artificial Knorr brand.
  • Soy sauce, dashi, mirin, miso, gojuchang (Korean pepper paste), vinegar

The beauty–and fun–of this dish? Everything else is optional! Pick and choose your favorites, mix it up each morning, or use sales at your local grocery store to guide your choices. Here are some options I find myself returning to again and again:

  • A green, cookable, semi sturdy vegetable such as choy sum, bok choy, broccoli or curly kale
  • A couple pieces of bacon or lean breakfast sausage
  • 1 egg
  • A tender, leafy (not woody) herb like basil, scallions or cilantro
  • Something tangy, vinegary, pickled/fermented, such as umeboshi, shibazuke, kimchee, or pickled thinly sliced red onion 
  • Avocado
  • Something seedy or sprinkly, such as furikake, sesame seeds, or even fried shallots


  1. Boil the egg until the yolks are medium-soft and jammy: Bring the water to a gentle boil, then carefully lower egg into the water. Cook for 6-7 minutes, then remove and immediately place in bowl of ice water.
  2. Cook the oats per package direction, but use the savory soup stock instead of water. (If you need to supplement with water, though, do so). Add a bit of soy sauce or a drop of sesame oil to give it depth, if needed. Reserve a small amount of broth, if using a very rich, delicious, leftover broth and cook down slightly so it becomes a bit saucy (if using shelf stable store-bought product, skip this step). More optional additions to add to the broth as desired (and depending on what’s in your pantry!) include: harissa, paprika, sumac, za’atar, cayenne pepper, curry powder, fresh ground black pepper, a bit of cumin).
  3. Cook the bacon or sausage per package directions. Reserve rendered fat, if any. 
  4. Cook veggies. Start by browning them in some a small amount of sesame oil, olive oil or reserved rendered meat fat until beginning to get tender. Add about 2 tbsp of liquid: 1 part each of soy, dashi and mirin OR a bit of miso, soy sauce and rice vinegar OR some gojuchang OR any combination of these, OR a bit more of the stock and water. These combinations are where you’ll get that savory, rich flavor! Cover pan and let the vegetables finish steaming/cooking until tender and ready. 
  5. Assemble your bowl! Start with a base of oats. Then, top with your cooked items: Arrange a corner with the veggies, then the jammy egg sliced in half, then your meat. Add sliced avocado. Finish with your smaller toppings: seeds, sprinkles, spices (paprika, fresh ground pepper) herbs and pickled onions, or whatever you chose to use. Drizzle with soy sauce if desired, or some of the reduced broth. 

Pickled onions are a grain bowl game-changer, and so simple to make. To do so, dissolve 2 tsp sugar and 1 tsp salt in 1/2 cup of water, then add 1/4 cup apple cider vinegar. Place slices from 1/2 of a red onion onion in mixture and let it sit for an hour or more until pickled to desire. 

Explore further: The flavor and ingredient combinations are truly endless with this dish! Need more ideas on how to mix things up? Check out this video for more great ideas (like savory oats with Parmesan cheese!).

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